The election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s president is widely assessed as creating an opportunity for a negotiated settlement that would limit Iran’s nuclear program to purely peaceful purposes. Rouhani stated in his campaign and afterward that he seeks to lessen tensions with the international community, including the United States. In upcoming negotiations, his negotiators will likely demand a substantial easing of international sanctions in exchange for a solution acceptable to the six negotiating countries: Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States. There is vibrant debate among experts about whether the Barack Obama administration has the latitude to ease US sanctions to the point where a nuclear deal with Iran can be concluded.
The case of Iran is particularly complex because the US sanctions have become comprehensive, designed primarily to compel third countries and their companies to choose between doing business in Iran and doing business in the much larger US market. Whereas in earlier years, US sanctions were intended to hinder Iran’s efforts to modernize its key energy sector, in recent times sanctions have been enacted to materially reduce Iran’s existing exports of oil, the sector that generated about half of government revenues in 2011.